Movies about a loving family should be joyous, heartwarming tales. Even the most dark and depressing examinations of family values have at least a bit of humour in them don’t they? Comedy is, after all, an ever present in life…no matter how grim. Not so much in Belgium it would seem, as Joachim Lafosse’s Our Children is a tragedy void of anything the slightest bit whimsical, but when hearing about the true story the film is based you can kind of understand why.
Inspired by the heartbreaking story of Genevieve Lhermitte, Our Children is an exquisite yet ultimately tragic expression of mental suffocation with a stunning lead performance at its core. Emilie Dequenne is Murielle, a young woman who falls madly in love with Moroccan native, now Belgian citizen, Mounir (Tahar Rahim). As their life together develops, through marriage and the birth of 3 children, their domestic life becomes manipulated by Mounir’s adoptive father, Dr Andre Pinget (Niels Arestrup). Taking it on himself to financially support the family, Murielle gradually becomes stifled by his presence and the inevitable cracks begin to emerge in the relationship of the young couple.
Emotionally arresting and profoundly moving throughout, the film is extremely fast paced for its subject matter. Utilising clever edits to develop large chunks of time, the film persistently skips forward and spans several years in a heartbeat. Of course such a technique is essential in documenting Murielle’s gradual mental descent, and it’s a testament to both the acting and the direction that its narrative progression never becomes confusing nor convoluted. There are occasions when proceedings become a bit of a chore, but then such forays into monotony only heighten one’s sympathy for Murielle and her evidently mundane and suffocated existence.
As the film wears on, it becomes increasingly heartbreaking to see Murielle deteriorate as the chauvinistic ideals of her husband, and unwanted landlord, take their toll. Essentially seeing her physically and emotionally fall apart due to the unwarranted pressures that besiege women, the film plummets southward for Murielle in the final third conjuring a truly horrifying finale that will render even the most talkative of people speechless.
In a word, Our Children is tragic. It’s unsettling, upsetting and at times haunting thanks Lafosse’s powerful script and his cast’s phenomenal acting. Exuding a nuanced honesty throughout that only seems apparent in films from mainland Europe, every performance is great to watch. From Emelie Duquenne’s gradual deterioration to Niels Arestrup’s ever present creepiness, Our Children is as engrossing as it is sombre. From top to bottom, Joachim Lafosse’s latest truly is an old fashioned Greek tragedy of the very highest order.
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